Tracking the strategies, talking points, poll numbers, electorate trends, media coverage, rhetoric and everything else about the 2012 Presidential election in the hunt for 270 "red" electoral college votes.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago, the Republican contest looked like it was racing towards a final decisive battle between Mitt Romney and a resurgent Newt Gingrich.
But Gingrich’s poll numbers are plummeting at such terminal velocity now that there may be time yet for another candidate to make a last-minute move and take over the designated anti-Romney spot. Let’s review the case for some of the dark horses out there.
Ron Paul The case for Paulmentum: He’s currently leading in Iowa and, unlike some of the flash-in-the-pan candidates we’ve seen pop up so far, his core supporters would walk in front of a train for him. He’s had four years to build the necessary institutions to harness the raw grassroots buzz he generated in 2008 and local officials in Iowa have been raving about his disciplined and highly visible ground game for months.
The case against: Even with the very real chance of a big Iowa victory, Ron Paul’s ceiling is relatively low for a several reasons. His isolationist bent and libertarian positions on drugs, civil liberties, and other hot button issues where the vast majority of the GOP is on the far opposite end of the spectrum. His longtime connections to the far-right fringe and its most racist, militia-friendly, conspiracy-mongering elements are also poisonous and he’s actually avoided media scrutiny in these areas since few independent observers give him a real shot at winning the nomination.
“If Paul wins Iowa he would be Mitt Romney’s new BFFL (best friend for life) as sane Republicans and Independents who want to beat Obama will sober up pretty fast and stop dancing with gadflies,” Pat Griffin, an unaligned GOP strategist in New Hampshire told TPM. “I think a Paul win in Iowa further coalesces Romney support in NH and SC.”
Rick Perry The case for Perrymentum: Rick Perry looked like he might be in position to coast to the nomination in August, before his campaign ran off a cliff. He had been largely left for dead even before he started forgetting his own campaign platform mid-debate, but he may be poised to gain if Gingrich’s keeps racing towards bottom. For one thing his poll numbers in Iowa, while still stuck in the 10-12% range, have been slowly ticking up in recent weeks. And unlike some of the other longshots, he is all over the airwaves — both his campaign and a Super PAC are shelling out big bucks on ads. His last ditch plan seems to be a combination of a naked pandering appeal to evangelicals (‘Hate gays and love Christmas? Me too!’) and an anti-Wall Street, anti-Washington outsider attack that looks to tar his rivals as corrupt insiders.
And his low expectations at this point could also work in his favor. “[A] third place by Perry in IA is probably enough to get him into the poll position in battle Romney in SC and beyond,” GOP strategist Soren Dayton told TPM.
The case against: It seems hard to believe after his rock star entrance to the campaign, but voters haven’t just moved on to other candidates — they actively loathe Perry. He’s underwaterwith 37-47 favorability among national Republicans in the latest PPP poll, and he fares the worst of the entire field with the general voting populating, making the electability case against Romney pretty weak. Among all voters, his favorability rating is a rancid 24-65. Newt managed to rebound after losing his grip on the GOP faithful, but now he’s back to being heckled by disillusioned locals, so Perry faces a steep climb.
Jon Huntsman The case for Huntsmentum: The guy has been practically living in New Hampshire, making a campaign-leading 115 appearances in the state since June, and his poll numbers are finally showing some modest movement. A number of popular Republican pundits, including Erick Erickson and George Will, have been urging voters to give him another look as their anti-Romney options dwindle. He’s actually much more conservative than his reputation suggests — his tax plan, for example, is much, much more ambitious (and regressive) than Romney’s and the Wall Street Journal has taken notice of the wide gap. He’s also not afraid to throw the kitchen sink at Romney over Bain Capital’s layoffs.
The case against: If he hasn’t surged in New Hampshire at this point after targeting it almost exclusively, it seems hard to imagine why it would suddenly happen now. Whatever the reality of his record, Huntsman has angered a lot of Republicans by taking shots at the right on climate change, evolution, and other issues that push their culture warrior buttons. As the technocratic, ultra-rich, governor with a successful dad and a bunch of fans among Republican elites, he occupies a lot of the same space as Romney. And if he does win New Hampshire by some miracle, where does he go next? He doesn’t seem to be a good fit for more socially conservative states, especially in the South, and it could be tough for him to build on his success.